The rays of sunshine hit her straight in the face. The woman who had curled on the double comfortable bed felt as if she was punched. She groaned and covered her eyes to protect them from the light. Oh, no! It would be one of those days when her body felt like a corpse: hard like a stone. Every movement was causing untamable pain. It was a real torment to reach the window and pull the curtains up. She ought to have done that yesterday when she arrived at home. But the world was too dizzy for her then. One could not expect her to remember such tedious details as the preparation for the usual morning hangover.

Crystal Sky crawled through the floor with half-shut eyes and a minute later managed to grab the soft cloth. "Come on, you'll make it!" Her mind was screaming and that made her feel even more pathetic. Finally the source of irritation was found and blocked. She sighed with relief and rested on the floor helpless to do something more than massaging her temples. Even such a simple activity could exhaust her completely. And that headache was killing every cell in her brain.

"These wild nights are already out of control." Her conscience was reminding her motherly of her irresponsible way of life… juts like every morning. "You have to start a new life! You are self-destructive!" The woman hissed with an unexpected fury and suddenly forgot how tired she had been and about her painful headache. She needed to get rid of that nasty little bore. Probably it would be good to hear some advice but not at that moment! Crystal reached her little bathroom and sank in the tub. Usually she used to spend very long time to prepare it but right now all she needed was some freezing water to chase all little invisible wounds and unpleasant thoughts away. It always helped.

"Ah, that feels so fine!" Crystal uttered when the stream fulfilled all the space and her mood started improving. She had always been in love with any kind of water, probably because of her star sign. It was unlocking all her hidden sources of energy. She smiled and dived deep under it: melodies were exploding in her mind: picturesque images were burning as if they were alive. Her body shivered with the dose of strength that started running through her veins. Then Crystal ran out of breath and broke the surface by spilling millions of droplets out of the bath. She completely opened her eyes while catching the edges of the bath. This weird sense of invincibility overwhelmed her as in the good old times when all seemed possible.

But after that the smile left her face the woman just rested and leant her head against the wall. These were the only moments of the day when someone could see her being optimistic. Moments, which tended to be very rare in the last few months… or maybe years?

Most people knew her as depressed, hyper, short tempered and locked up. They were right. Crystal Sky was like that most of the time.

But the rest of her: the wild and bohemian Crystal was taking control more and more often. She was thinking over the idea to stop the nights of endless parties. That would help her feel and work better, but it was impossible to cut it all down. After all, she needed that part of her personality because every single evening Crystal was hearing how even the walls of her flat were screaming at her. She couldn't stand it. That's why she never refused invitations for some dancing, alcohol, madness and casual sex to erase the sense of emptiness.

It's been 20 minutes and the woman decided it was time to get out. She was refreshed and ready to start the… afternoon? For sure it was already quite late. Her last memories from the previous night were that someone took her home early in the morning.

The woman rubbed her tired and swollen face with the fluffy towel. She looked up the mirror she was drying herself in front of. Crystal wasn't so young, she celebrated her thirty-sixth birthday last month but she still looked extremely well for her age. That seemed strange to some friends who didn't approve the way she was spending her free time.

Her long straight black hair was reaching her unnaturally thin waist. It was very soft and dense and appeared like silk cloth. There were some pale circles under her eyes, which merged with the pearl white skin of her face with sharp and severe features. The oval line of her skull, her long lashes, volitional chin, lush lips in deep red color and a little thick eyebrows were revealing another part of the complicated cocktail called "Crystal Sky". Stubbornness, intelligence, concentration, artistic spirit, dose of insanity, anger and sensitiveness. Some of these qualities could easily explode.

And of course, the most remarkable part of her. She had the strangest eyes with different colors. The first one was dark blue as an ocean during storm. The other had the special shade of green and gold. At high school some kids mocked at her because of this but her first girlfriend Shelly claimed that they looked "so sexy and mysterious". Crystal smiled when she remembered the hot waves that ran through her when she heard these simple words.

There was something else at the bottom of these lakes only her best friends could recognize. Very deep pain.

Marianne Sky had always claimed that one day her daughter would be great and famous. She had good reasons to believe in this: the girl was gifted with so many talent and skills! She was taking part in every activity including art: writing, sculpture, theatre, even music. Once Crystal wrote the script for the school play; took the part of the main character and made the decors for it. She also had excellent grades and every teacher was proud to have a student like her.

But her greatest passion remained the drawing. Her mother said she had been able to hold the brush and the pencil before she started using fork and knife. The most ironic was that this was the only thing the others didn't approve. It was just because her style was confusing and sometimes frightening. The words of her art teacher were still clearly sealed in her mind:

"How is it possible for such a young girl to create these horrible things! She is only twelve for God's sake! At her age the children are drawing the sun, fields with flowers and hearts. Symbols of the happy childhood, you know. They don't think of dying and pain. I would accept that if Crystal was a child from a broken home. But she has got everything she needs: perfect home, family and happiness. I'm afraid your daughter suffers of serious mental disorder!"

That statement was still driving her mad. What could that old, conservative bitch know about her way of expressing? About her at all? That woman thought herself to be very bright but she had no idea what was going on in the girl's head.

The paintings were quite extreme: cemeteries full of crows, sinister landscapes of deserted spaces, black roses covering corpses, suicides in pool of ruby red blood. Her most embarrassing picture was one of a young woman in a long white gown drinking the blood of a child. The background was a dark forest whose shapes resembled desperate faces and hands begging for help. Everyone in the class was terrified. At first Mrs. Gray suspected that her parents had something to do with Crystal's strange taste. But Marianne and Bill were good and decent people. She was often at their house and never noticed something wrong. So the frigid slut decided that her student was "ill" and advised them "friendly" to consult her with one "great friend of her" who would help them to heal her.

The rumors were flowing like a river. The whole town considered the sweet little Crystal as a "child of Devil" just twenty-four hours after the teacher talked to the family. They thought she was Satanic just because of her love for the dark colors and the gothic culture. She never tried to explain she didn't care about religion and that this was only the way she felt the world. But what was the point of telling something? None would listen.

And what was worst her mother decided to take care of her "mental state". The girl spent the next few years visiting psychiatrists who were looking for some deep reasons about her obsession with death.

That's how came she was one of the most hated outsiders at school. Crystal didn't stop her "hobby"; she had too independent nature to let someone put her under control. At least it used to be like this. The fact that she was an open lesbian and that she loved listening to gothic and black metal didn't help her take the life easier. Her teenage years were a living hell.

May be that was the reason Caroline meant so much to her. That woman was the first person to understand her tormented mind. After being bullied and mocked for so long time she desperately needed someone to make her feel better in society; a soulmate. Crystal wasn't a total virgin; she used to have a few girlfriends and her feelings were often strong. But she had never felt so attached to another human being. So "in place". She still had these emotions and despised herself. That relationship gave her a lot and took a lot from her.

Caroline Graciel appeared in her life as a thunder: fast, explosive and overwhelming. It all began so simply in a hot summer afternoon during the Art class. Life is ironic. They both were introduced by the most unexpected person: Mrs. Gray! She had said that one classmate from her high school, now famous professor and an artist, was going to visit them. She would be looking for brand new talents. Crystal didn't expect much of that meeting. She had already considered that stranger as another dull fish who would babble all the time and talk of the previous golden days.

When Caroline arrived her surprise was untamable and grew into the strongest shock of her youth. Cold sweat started running down her body and she stopped breathing. Someone's physical appearance had never made her feel so weak and vulnerable. No human being could resist such an authoritative beauty, gracefulness and charm. The woman was one of these people who could enchant anyone without telling a single word. Crystal was doomed to fall madly in love with that stylish creature coming from other planet. The girl was only eighteen and still too naпve.

The guest had a gorgeous posture and her head was always up. She had hung her silver blond hair down and it was contrasting the quite eccentric black dress in gothic style. The clear color of her natural magenta eyes was brought into relief by the black eyeliner. Her strawberry red lips woke up a lot of bedtime fantasies in the horny part of the lass's brain.

She was amazed that such incredible person could know her fake teacher. Probably they weren't on good terms; it was clear to see by the cold way they greeted each other. Caroline walked around with the refinement of a ballet-dancer and stared at every work of a student for some minutes completely speechless and fallen in her own little world.

When she stopped in front of Crystal's painting called "Wiccan erotica" she stayed there longer. The teenager's heart would burst out of anxiousness to understand what the mysterious hot lady thought of it. The latter one threw such a smile at her that she was about to melt. Her knees and body were shaking by the passionate and sensual lust burning in her stomach. Obviously Caroline was aware of her effect over people and looked content.

"Quite impressive, my darling!" Her voice was so soft and affected her like a drug. How could one perfect stranger make her feel this way? "Good technique and quite wide imagination, very well built composition. Yes, you definitely have got a potential, Miss…?"

"Sky, ma'am, Crystal Sky."

"What an adorable name!" Caroline exclaimed quietly and squeezed her hand. "Have you ever been displayed, Miss Sky?"

"Huh, no, ma'am." Damn it, why do I sound like such a baby girl! I'm hilarious.

"What a shame! Talent like yours have to be encouraged!" She smiled devilishly. "Some people in here just don't know… It's a pity. But there is no need to worry, my dear. I'll take care of that. We'll meet often in the future, Miss Sky."

"I hope so." Crystal said and blushed while biting her lips.

When Caroline left she felt like crying. A new feeling was shaping in her heart that made her be in heaven and hell at the same time. Just one touch and look by the woman were making her burn blood with pleasure, as if drug from paradise was flowing through her veins. On the other hand, the absence of the object of her desire made her writhe in killing pain. That definitely was love: deep, passionate and sweet.

The next few days the student felt like flying. Caroline Graciel was the only habitant of her drunk by the new emotion brain. She was writing her name on pieces of paper and notebooks, sketching her face every time she was drawing and even had some very sensual dreams about her. After all, in that time the hormones were driving her mad as it was with the other girls.

Crystal was already desperate that her sweetheart would never turn up and got more depressed than ever. But then she came to school as unexpected as the previous time. Caroline was wearing the same model of dress but this time it was red. Her marvelous hair was tied and that revealed her swan neck. The girl stood speechless and happy just staring at the goddess. Her tongue felt like dead meat and she couldn't move it at all. The singsong laughter echoed in her ears like an angel's voice.

"Hey, are you OK?" I hope you haven't forgotten to talk."

Crystal wanted to say something like "I missed you so much!" or "I love you!" but all she could utters was:

"I'm glad to see you again. I thought that you…"

"… have forgotten?" Another dose of laughter. Caroline touched her shoulder and started caressing it gently. "Come on, it's easy to remember one impressive young lady such as you. I meant what I said then. I'll help you, Crystal, because you are unique and terrific. That's why I am here Let's have lunch and discuss your future? Do you want to?"

So much time spent with one of the most beautiful women? Even if she wasn't promising to stand for her in professional plan Crystal couldn't refuse. She just nodded like a mechanical doll and followed her.

The lass didn't notice in what restaurant they went, neither the food they ate. Her mind was concentrated mainly on their conversation. She was surprised with herself. During this hour and half she confessed more than she had done in her entire life. She talked about her frustration and the way everyone treated her, about her fears and dreams, about her demons… Crystal felt that her companion understood the way she was feeling and that made her unnaturally calm. Then Caroline started talking about the most important theme of their meeting.

"There's going to be Young Talents Competition in New York next month. This is a pretty new activity but that doesn't matter. The winners are going to be displayed and seen by some of the most successful artistic circles. They'll also get scholarships. I happen to know one of the jury. He'll come after a week. I'd like to show him some of your work."

That opportunity sounded great but she was a little nervous about it. Most people's reaction about her drawing was mainly terror. Well, they were completely conservative… but what if it all went wrong? She wouldn't bear this failure. Crystal was staring at her plate without knowing what to say.

Caroline saw her hesitation and made her look up.

"Girl, you've got something many people are dreaming for: gift, talent! Don't waste it! Use the moment and the chance. You might never get another one. Do you think Mary Alice Gray cares about ethics or moral? She just sees what you'd become one day and she wants stops you because of envy! Don't listen to these hypocrites!" She touched her cheek and caressed her face. "I want to help you, dear, I'm not like them. Please, believe me!"

And Crystal believed her with the idiocy and naivete of young child. That woman was promising an exit of her miserable life… and probably something more. How could she resist her dreams? She was so easy to blind then.

Caroline invited her new friend in the house she had rented for the period she was staying in the little town. She wanted to show her own drawings. The girl agreed immediately and in few minutes they were travelling in a luxurious car. The wind in her hair seemed lighter, the sun seemed brighter and every color looked in a different way.

The temporary residence was one of the most stylish places Crystal had ever seen. Obviously Caroline was taking good care of the places she was living in. It was a two-story building with white walls and elegant iron stairs leading to the front door. Inside it was covered with pale aromatic candles and gothic pictures in frames. The soft fluffy furniture and velvet curtains were emphasizing the impression of lazy, calm and tempting atmosphere stronger. The girl felt dazed as she looked around.

"Come in, the paintings are in my room. I'm curious to hear what you think of them."

With these words Caroline dragged her guest along and they went to the next flight of stairs. They entered an enormous dark room. A double bed covered with silk sheets occupied a lot of space. Some canvases took the rest of it. Crystal came straight to them and her eyes grew wide with amazement. They were all in her favorite style: sad, melancholic, alive, beautiful, breathing, depressing and philosophical. Everything in them was perfectly arranged, every little shade kept a secret message. Caroline immediately turned into an example of perfection for her.


"I would say that my imagination is empty of words to describe what I'm feeling… I had never suspected someone else could sense the things of life that way… How…?

Her statement got frozen in her throat when two seductive arms embraced her waist. A sweet fragrance of cinnamon and roses breathed in her neck and got every fiber of her body thrilled. A pair of beautiful and lush lips left strawberry scars as they softly brushed her neck. In the short period of their acquaintance Crystal had often dreamt of this moment. But she had never thought that being close to her would be so… obsessive… unreasonable… Perfect madness… It was so divine that it hurt her in the most tender way.

She left her mind somewhere over the pink clouds of ecstasy. Caroline was holding her, kissing her and completely reigned over her in that sensual moment.

"I know you want it as strong as I do from the moment we met." The tempting voice was caressing her senses. "You are different, my sweetheart. But you always seem to push your feelings away, right? That's not the way! You'll have to trust them because they are the voice of truth. Don't you feel my desire? Trust me, Crystal, trust me." The elder woman turned her around and sank their lips in burning kiss. She kept on uttering until their breath united. "Get lost inside of me! Feel me, love!"

Later in her life Crystal would have many nights of passion. But it would never be the same as in her first time with woman. In that afternoon she completely overcame all barriers and dedicated to the emotions that were tearing her apart. It felt as if they both turned into one indestructible soul. A flame and all cliches were too empty to describe one so incredible experience. It would never be like this again.

That was the beginning of her heaven and hell, pleasure and pain. Caroline turned her world upside down and fulfilled it with pink dreams and promises. The girl would realize that she was simply bought. As a doll, a toy, a whore. But then she was only eighteen and completely in lobe to realize the game of lust.

The next few years were the best in her life. She won the competition with her "Wiccan erotica" drawing and that led her way to the future success. The girl got full scholarship and finally was able to move from her hometown in New York to study. Of course she stayed in her lover's big flat. The latter one was a great support in everything. She was always listening to her troubles and gave her a good advice. She was showing her some secrets about the craft and helped her to complete her style. They were a mother and daughter, sisters, best friends and a couple. Crystal thought they would be joined forever.

The time was slowly passing by and before they realized four years were gone. She graduated and already had the self-confidence of an artist. She was seen and appreciated by many people and that gave her feeling of security in her skills. The little rebellious girl grew up and was ready to start her own career. Caroline Graciel was full of pride as she was kissing her lover's shoulders. Crystal was totally drawn in the preparation for her first exposition. She was spending days and nights with the brush and the paints in her hands. She kept on creating until her eyes couldn't stay open. The ambition and desire got so strong that nothing else could occupy her thoughts. Probably that was the reason she didn't notice the glimpse of tiredness and indifference, which appeared in Caroline's eyes.

But one day she had to wake up from her sweet dream and face up the reality. It happened few weeks after her debut in the artistic world. It was going very well but then her "roommate" got the habit of being quite late or not turning up at all. That was making her nervous and sometimes even scared. What if something bad had happened to her? She was walking back and forth in the empty dark rooms until Caroline arrived. They often were having arguments about it.

"Hey, I understand you've been busy but at least you could call me. Don't you care that I was worried?"

"Please, Cris, don't act like a whiny little girl! If you hadn't noticed I'm an adult and I can take care of myself. Don't bother me with your reactions of a frustrated teenager."

Crystal stayed numb for few seconds and blinked unbelievingly. How could Caroline – her Caroline – be that cruel?"

"Is that what you think of me? Do you respect me so little that… I thought I had meant something to you…" Tears burdened in her eyes.

Caroline felt she had gone too far and went to embrace the shaking younger woman.

"Oh, baby, don't cry. I didn't mean to offend you that much. Sorry…"

"I'm sorry I screamed too… I just love you too much and… I… hate the thought that one day I might lose you."

"You won't, I promise." Caroline kissed her neck. "Sweety, everything will be all right."

But it wasn't. Similar scandals were repeating every single night. Crystal was forgiving sheepishly all mistakes but her lover didn't even try to stop. Her behavior and attitude got worse and she started acting like a free woman. In parties she was openly kissing and flirting with all girls. When her lover used to tell it was unbearable the reply was simple and categorical.

"Please, leave me alone! I need to breathe and if you have feelings for me you would allow me such little escapes. Love can be very suffocating sometimes."

The girl wouldn't forget the night she found Caroline in THEIR bed with some blond student. Crystal went out of her mind and ran away. She walked down the foggy streets feeling completely insane without being able to find out what was going on. She kept on wandering until her legs refused to make another step.

After all, she came back. She had always come back! The only result was that the woman grew more discrete about her affairs.

But that wasn't the worst. Caroline started insulting her in any way possible and seemed to enjoy the hurt in her eyes. She loved doing that in front of other people: their friends and colleagues. She was making her doubt in the quality of her work. The first person who helped her believe in her gifts was calling her drawing "cheap and shitty". All the pain and humiliation were affecting her deeply. The canvases were getting weak and that was driving her into crisis of depression and despair. She wasn't emotionally disabled or hysterical but in these day she used to cry almost all the time. The coldness and despise in Caroline's eyes were killing her.

"Why are you doing this to me? What have I done that you hate me so much?"

"Hate? Crystal, you sound like a character of soap opera! Haven't you realized that so far? The pain is the clearest source of inspiration. By hurting you I give you the impulse of creation from the darkest corners of your pain. If you have only the so-called happiness you'll grow to be like all these sappy happy people: mushy and artificial. I'm doing you a favor, silly girl. But probably I have overrated your talent."

Crystal couldn't understand Caroline's words. She only knew they were as cruel as the sharpest knife. These scars could never be healed and part of her hated her "sweetheart" for giving her everything and that she was slowly taking it away. She also hated herself for being such a wimp. A year later she decided that she had gotten enough of that relationship. Probably she had overrated their love.

But what was the point in running away? Even though life with Caroline was unbearable she couldn't stand her absence. Every bit of her was crying for her body, her kisses, her love making during the lonely nights. She was again dreaming of her and waking up covered in cold sweat. Obviously she was doomed to be with that woman. That was her illness and curse.

Caroline accepted her again but she got more violent and evil. The beautiful and mysterious lover had turned into a monster that adores reigning over the other's will. Especially in their sexual life. She was often biting and hitting Crystal; she was handcuffing her and flagellating her to the point of bleeding. The physical pain was terrible but it couldn't be compared with the feeling of abuse and self-despise. She stopped drawing in some periods. Every month the miserable girl was trying to end with the hell but it was meaningless.

Another three years of torments, doubts and heartache passed. Crystal felt as if she was an old woman about to die. She was often thinking of suicide but never found the strength to do that. Her frustration was growing.

But all would appear just as a tiny scratch compared to the last lethal blow.

One night when Caroline was gone Crystal was staying in their living room taking efforts to draw something. Suddenly she heard a noise coming from the front door. In that time she used to be physically weak and unable to fight. That's why there was nothing she could do against the three masked men who rushed in the flat. They were strong, muscled and looked harsh. She tried to scream but one of them put a hand on her mouth. The others carried her to the bedroom. Crystal already knew what they would do. She burst in tears and tried to explain to them that she was a virgin and had never even kissed a boy. They only laughed rude. One of them said: "I love virgins!"

The next moments were such that the thought to remember was killing her. The only memory was a blur of pain and humiliation.

She woke up in the hospital. Her body was torn apart and she had to stay there for some weeks until her complete recovery. That was a nightmarish but also heavenly period. Caroline was next to her twenty-four hours a day, in all bad moments. She made her eat and drink when Crystal was losing her will for life. For some time she looked like the old Caroline: tender, caring and sweet. She thought that they might turn back the old times. How foolish and pitiful she has been!

Crystal was a night bird but after the rape she was falling asleep very early in the evening. It's been three months after the fatal evening. She woke up about midnight. Her throat was sore so she decided to have a glass of water. While she was pouring it some groans reached her hearing. They were coming from the sitting room. She frowned and headed to there noiselessly hoping her fears wouldn't come true.

It was Caroline but she was alone and was masturbating in front of a BDSM porn film. Her lover stood behind her staring with disgust. The whole thing was sending shivers down her spine. Three guys were raping a helpless woman. How could such a feminist as her like that sort of things? Especially after what happened. Masks hid the men's faces but in the next moment the female face was clearly visible. It was… Crystal. She finally realized the painful truth.

A sharp screaming cut the night silence. Caroline turned around startled to see her girlfriend curled and in tears.

"You… you… perverted sick bitch!" She was shouting so loud that her throat shriveled. "Why? Why did you do this? How…"

"Honey, relax, I can explain…" The woman tried to smile but she was crossed.

"There's nothing to explain! It was you who made me pass through all this shit! That's all I am for you! A whore! A toy! You have never loved me… You ruined my life."

"How dare you, little brat! I was the one who made something of you…" That was the first and last time in her life when she slapped Caroline in the face. The latter one remained silent and speechless. She was too stunned to do something. Crystal grinned madly and toddled to their bedroom with shaking pace. She just fell on the bed in the land of dreams too exhausted to move a bit.

Next morning she was woken by one soft hand. Her eyes opened sleepily and Caroline's image blurred in front of her.

"Get dressed and come to the living room." She disappeared before the younger woman could realize what had happened. She climbed off and saw her favorite clothes on the other side of the double bed: black blouse with long and fluffy sleeves, a pair of blue jeans and high-heeled sandals. She put them on silently and then went to see what Caroline was planning.

The blond was staying there cold and unapproachable as a statue. There were two suitcases by her legs.

"Are we going somewhere?" She asked confused.

"No, Crissy, you are leaving. We are breaking up and I don't want you here anymore. Am I clear?"

"What?" Crystal couldn't believe what she had heard. "You are chasing me away?! Just like this? After so long time together! I can't believe it, Carrie! Why?"

"Oh God, you are so sappy that you make me sick! Let's face up the facts! I wanted to help you do something with your life! I used to see something in you and thought you were special! But you failed! You turned into a pitiful slut begging and crying for attention. You wasted your talent and tried to put the blame on me! I realize now that there is nothing I can do to save our relationship. I was desperate when I hired these guys to rape you… I thought that would help you get the life. But it was pointless. Please, just leave."

"You… how can you… I have nothing… How can I live… without you." Crystal hated herself for the next actions. She fell on the floor and crawled at Caroline's feet. "Please, don't throw me away like this! I'll die without you. I can't live on my own."

"Then you'll have to learn!" She kicked the girl's body and glared at her. Haven't you got some dignity? Stop acting like a teenager! Grow up for heaven's sake. Now leave and never come back!"

When Caroline saw she wouldn't go away on her own. Caroline grabbed the suitcase and dragged them along to the door. Then she went back to Crystal and kicked her once more.

"Will you at least end with some pride, girl or I'll have to force you?"

Crystal slowly stood up and rubbed her tears. She had no choice but stop before she died of heartache. What else was there left for her? Before she went out of the door she shot one last glance at Caroline and left without saying a word.

The young woman was walking down the street as if walking on the shattered pieces of her broken life. She was homeless, jobless, failed and tired. She was only twenty-six and couldn't figure out what to do. All this because of the damned four lettered word: love. For her it was already a synonym of destruction. "No more! No more of that black magic!"

She kept on wandering on the foggy streets of New York. A plan was shaping in her tired mind. The only way to forget about her previous life was to leave that city. Away! She had to find out what was waiting for her.

That happened ten years ago. Ten long lonely years. She spent eight of them on the road with the wind in her hair and the roar of thousand cars and motors. Crystal Sky was running away and crossing new territories. The pain was still in her heart but she had forgotten about it. She was too busy to fix her life and managed well. She never stopped. She never looked back. She kept on fighting to survive. Until…

The moment she realized she had gotten over the person who killed her. She became cold and indifferent. The old passion was gone. What more could Caroline Graciel do to her? She couldn't hurt her anymore.

Crystal Sky had come back to the place of her rise and fall two years ago though very people knew about it. Apart from the wild nights she wasn't socializing much. Not in the circles she used to be in.

"Hey, how does my little princess feel this morning?" A cheerful voice crossed her unhappy thoughts. Crystal sighed with relief by the click of the door. She was already dressed, combed and had taken two pills against headache. But that didn't make her feel better at all. She avoided thinking of the past but there were some days when it was inevitable.

Anyway, his company would help her more than the medicine.

How ironic! Her best friend, the one who helped her to stay alive, was the stepbrother of the woman who had broken her life. Darren Graciel hadn't talked with his sister for many years. They were never on very good terms, even when he was a child and she was a teenager. He was born by the second wife of Caroline's father. The only common features they had were the homosexuality and the love for art. He was friendly and kind. She was cold and vigorous. He didn't like being center of attention. She was obsessed with power and authority. These differences were often causing great arguments in their later life. By the time he was introduced to Crystal they had been able to establish good relationships. It happened a little after their father's death. Their peace turned out to be fragile and some months later they broke contact.

Darren and Crystal liked each other a lot and fast became very good friends. They didn't stop meeting during the years she was living with Caroline. Ice Queen didn't know about that, of course (which was a great surprise: she was in the picture for everything). He was the only person she was writing to after she left New York and one of the people who persuaded her to come back.

The young man entered the kitchen carrying two smoking cups of coffee and a packet of take-away food. He smiled at her and gave her one of the cups.

"I considered you'd get up so "early" and decided you would need some strong "breakfast."

"What would I do without you?" Only he could make her smile; even if that was a wry smile. She took a sip of the hot drink and started eating her portion of the lunch. "So… how are you getting with the preparation for your exhibition?" Darren was a successful photographer.

"Everything is just fine, as always…" He looked away for a while. "But I'm not sure we have to talk about this right now. Are you OK?"

"What?" She was surprised by the question. "What do you… Oh, no! Can't you all leave me alone at least when I'm eating! Everybody never stops explaining how irresponsible my way of life is. But I like it! Stop acting as if you are my mother!"

"Cris…" he crossed her. "I know that my beloved sister spat on your feelings. I don't know how you have survived for so long time with her. But it's time to get over it."

"I did!"

"No, that's not true. You've been on your own for ten years. Don't tell me you don't need someone. You have to try again. Even if you don't feel ready you may arrange your life. These friends of yours won't help you feel better."

"Please, stop that! Right now I am much calmer than the time I was with her. I might be a wild child sometimes but that's better than being the pathetic slut she turned me into. So, I repeat, I like it that way! Stop torturing me, Darren!" Her voice was a little cracked. "Please… I'll decide when I need a change."

"OK, darling, I didn't mean to bother you. Sorry!" She smiled and held his hand.

"I'm sorry too. I overreacted. I know you care for me."

"So, we are friends again!" Darren got up from the chair with the coffee in his hand. His look wandered around the room and fell on the floor. A sketch made on a piece of block paper was laying there. He reached for it and picked it up while observing the picture carefully. This was the image of a young woman covered in transparent black cloth revealing parts of her body. Her arms and legs were covered with magenta roses that were so tightly wrapped in the skin and were leaving big droplets of blood on the dark hair looking as a raven wing. The eyes of the girl were completely lifeless though she wasn't dead. One of the flowers was crawling on her bare neck.

"Oh, mine, Crystal, when did you draw this one? Is it for your comics?"

She was living on the comics she started making under the nickname Carina Phoenix. Thanks to them she could afford the bills for the house, the food and everything else she needed. They also reminded her of the good old times when she was capable of something more.

Crystal frowned and took it away from his hand. She stared at it for a long time but in the end just shrugged.

"I can't even remember when I had made it. Probably I haven't been completely sober, who knows? So what's the big deal?

"Are you kidding, girl!" His eyes glittered with enthusiasm. "It's completely amazing! It's a confirmation you haven't lost It! That you had always had It."

"D, what are you talking about? Are you drunk?"

"Look… I respect a lot that your work keeps you alive. But it's time to go back to drawing. You have to draw this on a canvas!"

"You really want to kill me today!" She was messing her food nervously. "Please, I have no time for this. I need to do my REAL work. I'll have to buy canvas, paints and so on… I also have to find proper model and pay her. I simply can't afford it. Leave me alone!"

"Oh, don't try to get away with this! Your last comics was a such hit; you made a fortune. And I can find the model for you. The problem is not financial. You are afraid…"

"Ok, I'm afraid!" She shouted and went to the window with shaking pace. "I'm afraid I would fail because I'm not good enough. Are you happy now?"

Darren came closer and hugged her.

"No one can help you if you don't do that. This is your last chance. I'm not asking you to give up what you are doing. But… you have to give it a try. None will be hurt if it doesn't work.

Crystal was staring at the crowd outside. She was biting her lips nervously but her eyes remained emotionless. For a moment she looked as the woman from the picture. The silence kept on for too long.

"So… do you want me to find a girl?"

She turned and just nodded. Darren sighed with relief.